The question of what we should do to celebrate Elyn’s 70th birthday hung in the air for several weeks this fall. Her birthday on October 5 was coming closer and closer. We finally adopted our usual strategy of “asking our arm,” which is our shorthand for using muscle testing to help make the decision.
Muscle testing is more properly called Applied Kinesiology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_kinesiology and is generally poopooed by the scientific community as a means of diagnosis. However, we find it quite useful in making decisions about where to go, what to eat, which nutritional supplements to take, etc. To oversimplify: we ask a yes or no question and press on Elyn’s (or my) extended arm. A “strong” arm means “yes” and a suddenly “weak” arm means “no.”
So we set about “asking” Elyn’s arm which of the many possible plans we should pursue. Iceland? Norway? France? One by one, each of our proposed celebrations tested negative. As a wild guess, Elyn suggested Santiago de Compostela. This city near the west coast of Spain is the destination of the Camino de Santiago—the pilgrimage that has been Elyn’s long-time study. The response was a strong “yes.” We asked: “All things considered, is it in our highest interest to go to Santiago?” Again, the answer was a strong “yes.” So, Santiago it was to be. But why? And how?
We looked at various means of getting there—flying, renting a car, or going by train. Elyn’s arm “decreed” that it was to be by train. Getting to Santiago by train would be a 13-hour trip, so we began to think about breaking it up in León to reduce the physical stress. She remembered our long-time “Spanish family” worked there and wanted to see them again. We found a very attractive price online for the León parador and decided to book it for 2 nights.
(The paradors are a series of mostly 4-star hotels that the Spanish government created, many out of abandoned palaces and other monumental buildings.)
Planning our return trip to Girona from Santiago was more problematic. The fastest route was a connection through Madrid, but the train left at 6 AM and involved a change of stations. Again, we thought of breaking the trip in the middle, but Madrid was not attractive. Elyn thought of a side trip to Toledo (35 minutes from Madrid by fast train). Her arm gave a strong “yes” to that. She found an amazingly good price online at a 5-star hotel on a hill just outside of the city. So we decided to visit Toledo.
We still had no idea of what we were going to do in each of these cities, but I suddenly remembered the Jewish quarter of Toledo, which we had visited years ago. I dimly remembered medieval Jewish tombstones in a museum there. Of course! We could search out Jewish tombstones so that Elyn could recite a prayer for the dead over them! Her exhibit “In Memoriam,” a series of vessels that commemorates the medieval Jewish dead in Girona, was still up at the Museum of Jewish History here, and a pilgrimage of sorts to other Jewish burial sites made a great deal of sense to us.
Now, finally, Elyn’s birthday journey began to take shape. It would be a trip to commemorate the medieval Jewish presence in other areas of Spain. A brief search online established that, indeed, there was much to explore in León and Santiago. Moses de León, the writer of the important Kabbalist text, The Zohar, was reputed to have come from that city. And in 1378, Nicholas Flamel (the French alchemist) traveled to Santiago to find a Jewish Kabbalist to translate a mysterious text, and he found an old Kabbalist in León. We would need to extend our stay in each of these cities to allow for this exploration, but that was easily accomplished. Finally, Elyn contacted a man who teaches the “Toledano School of Kabbalah” and lives in Toledo. He offered to show us Kabbalist sites in the city.
So our trip, which began as a puzzling journey based on muscle testing, turned out to be a magical mystery tour of medieval Jewish Spain. It was only then that I realized that our trip was going to take place during the Jewish High Holy Days (10 days from the Jewish New Year to the Day of Atonement), How appropriate! While we were in Santiago, Elyn suddenly realized that she had spent half of her life studying and following the Camino de Santiago. She first came to Santiago when she was 35, and twice 35 is 70. She did her PhD on it, has written books about it, and we have walked it various times. Santiago was indeed the perfect destination for our trip.
You might be thinking, “Presented with random dots, they impose meaning!” You would be partly right. We drew lines between disconnected dots—and we found meaningful connections. Did we “make” meaning or “discover” it? I will let you decide for yourself.
To join us on our journey, click on the video below. Happy watching!